Remote work and people in government

Governments have increasingly adopted remote work due to COVID19. So far, there has been no comparative assessment of how teleworking has affected the public sector. The People in Government Lab, together with an international team of researchers from 12 universities is running a study in Brazil, Colombia, Chile, and the United Kingdom to understand the organisational advantages of teleworking, and to evaluate how behavioural sciences can improve public employees’ wellbeing and performance

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments have increasingly adopted remote work. This organisational change has imposed new challenges on the public sector and presented a breadth of different perspectives for the future. Governments and public employees worldwide have coped with these circumstances and continued delivering public services to their communities.

So far, there has been no comparative assessment of how remote working has affected public employee’s wellbeing and performance and how behavioural science can help overcome some of the main challenges. The People in Government Lab at Oxford University, together with an international team of researchers from 12 different institutions, including Harvard University, Duke University, Utrecht University, and Chile University, among others, is running a set of experiments in four different countries (Brazil, Colombia, Chile, and United Kingdom) with two purposes: 1) to understand the organisational advantages of hybrid working in the public sector, and 2) to evaluate how behavioural sciences can help to improve public employees’ performance and wellbeing.

According to the Duke Remote Work Survey (2020) and several exploratory interviews conducted with public employees in June and July 2020, people working in government are facing several unprecedented challenges while working remotely – such as the lack of boundaries between private and professional life, technology limitations, or longer working journeys - which all can impact productivity and well-being. Out of the many challenges cited by the public servants, we decided to focus on issues that were flagged as two of the most important barriers to well-being and productivity:

● Time spent in unproductive work. The public servants who answered the Duke Survey reported themselves as up to 40% less productive while working from home during the pandemic. These results are highly related to lack of self-control (Duke Remote Work Survey, 2020). In this context, finding ways to improve self-control as a means to raise performance and well-being outcomes is relevant and can be done by adopting strategies of goal-setting, planning, and measuring results.

● Social isolation/lack of human interaction. Being compelled to telework, people experience fewer social interactions than in their usual work setting (Duke Remote Work Survey, 2020), potentially affecting productivity and well-being. This issue could be minimised by looking at the process of organizational socialization, increasing opportunities for social interactions among colleagues, managers and employees.

We developed two behavioural informed interventions for workers in the public sectors:

1. GOAL, BLOCK AND MEASURE (GBM): This intervention aims to strengthen self-control to improve productivity and well-being. To achieve this result, the intervention is designed to encourage public servants to set work-related goals, to plan the actions needed to reach them, and to measure their success in meeting their goals. Organisers have also designed simple accountability mechanisms to secure higher compliance with the actions defined by the public employees.

2. BUILDING SOCIAL TIES (BST): This intervention aims to build/strengthen social ties among workers to improve productivity and well-being. To make it happen, researchers will adopt an intervention that use virtual channels to foster social ties inside public organizations.

The interdisciplinary and collaborative cross-border approach has allowed us to create a hub of academics, practitioners and decision-makers that exchange knowledge and learn from each other while applying behavioural sciences, experimental methods and designing evidence-based policies. The project as a whole will allow them to pinpoint which interventions and working methods help foster productivity and well-being with the new organizational landscape set by the pandemic.

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Year: 2021
Level of government: National/Federal government


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